Science Fiction & Fantasy

Hawk by Steven Brust

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Fiction

A Princess of Spain

November 14, 1501, Baynard’s Castle

Catherine of Aragon, sixteen years old, danced a pavane in the Spanish style before the royal court of England. Lutes, horns, and tabors played a slow, stately tempo, to which she stepped in time. The ladies of her court, who had traveled with her from Spain, danced with her, treading circles around one another—floating, graceful, without a wasted movement. Her body must have seemed like air, drifting with the heavy gown of velvet and gold. She did not even tip her head, framed within its gem-encrusted hood. She was a piece of artwork, a prize for the usurper of the English throne, so that his son’s succession would not be questioned. King Henry had the backing of Spain now.

Henry VII watched with a quiet, smug smile on his creased face. Elizabeth of York, his wife, sat nearby, more demonstrative in her pride, smiling and laughing. At a nearby table sat their two sons and two daughters—an impressive household. All made legitimate by Catherine’s presence here, for she had been sent by Spain to marry the eldest son: Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne, was thin and pale at fifteen years old.

All these English were pale, past the point of fairness and well toward ill, for their skies were always laden with clouds. Arthur slouched in his chair and occasionally coughed into his sleeve. He had declined to dance with her, claiming that he preferred to gaze upon her beauty while he may, before he claimed it later that evening.

Catherine’s heart ached, torn between anticipation and foreboding. But she must dance her best, as befitted an infanta of Spain. “You must show the English what we Spanish are—superior,” her mother, Reina Isabella, told her before Catherine departed. She would most likely never see her parents again.

Arthur did not look at her. Catherine saw his gaze turn to the side of the hall, where one of the foreign envoys sat at a table. There, a woman gazed back at the prince. She was fair skinned with dark eyes and a lock of dark, curling hair hanging outside her hood. Her high-necked gown was elegant without being ostentatious, both modest and fashionable, calculated to not upstage the prince and princess on their wedding day. But it was she who drew the prince’s eye.

Catherine saw this; long practice kept her steps in time until the music finished at last.

The musicians struck up a livelier tune, and Prince Henry, the king’s younger son, grabbed his sister Margaret’s arm and pulled her to the middle of the hall, laughing. All of ten years old, he showed the promise of cutting a fine figure when he came of age—strong limbed, lanky, with a head of unruly ruddy hair. Already he was as tall as any of his siblings, including his elder brother Arthur. At this rate he would become a giant of a man. Word at court said he loved hunting, fighting, dancing, learning—all the pursuits worthy of any prince of Europe. But at this moment he was a boy.

He said something—Catherine only had a few words of English, and did not understand. A moment later he pulled off his fine court coat, leaving only his bare shirt. The room was hot with torches and bodies. He must have been stifled in the finely wrought garment. Because he was a boy, the court thought the gesture amusing rather than immodest; everyone smiled indulgently.

Catherine took her seat again, the place of honor at the king’s right hand. She gazed, though, at Arthur. She did not even know him. She did not know if she wanted to. Tonight would be better. Tonight, all would be well.

He continued staring at the foreign woman.

The evening drew on, and soon the momentous occasion would be upon them: Arthur and Catherine would be put to bed to consummate their marriage. To seal the alliance between England and Spain with their bodies. Her ladies fluttered, preparing to spirit her off to her chambers to prepare her.

In the confusion, the lanky figure of a very tall boy slipped beside her. The young prince, Henry.

He smiled at her, like a child would, earnestly wanting to be friends.

“You’ve seen it, too,” he said in Latin. She could understand him. “My brother, staring at that woman.”

. Yes. Do you know her?”

“She’s from the Low Countries,” he said. “Or so it’s put out at court, though it’s also well known that she speaks French with no accent. She’s a lady-in-waiting to the daughter of the Dutch ambassador. But the daughter kept to her apartments tonight, and the lady isn’t with her, which seems strange, doesn’t it?”

“But she must have some reason to be here.” And that reason might very well be the young groom who could not take his gaze from her.

“Certainly. Perhaps I’ll order someone to spy on her.” Henry’s eyes gleamed.

Catherine pressed her lips together but didn’t manage a smile. “It is no matter. A passing fancy. It will mean nothing tomorrow.”

Arthur was her husband. Tonight would make that a fact and not simply a legality. With a sudden burning in her gut, she longed for that moment.

***

“In nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.”

The bishop sprinkled holy water over the bed, where Catherine and Arthur were tucked, dressed in costly nightclothes, put to bed in a most formal manner for their wedding night, so that all might know that the marriage was made complete. At last, the witnesses left them, and for the first time, Catherine was alone with her husband.

All she could do was stare at him, his white face and lank ruddy hair, as her heart raced in her chest. He stared back, until she felt she should say something, but her voice failed. Words failed, when she couldn’t decide whether to speak French, Latin, or attempt a phrase in her still halting English. Why can he not understand Spanish?

“You are quite pretty,” he said in Latin, and leaned forward on shaking arms to kiss her on the lips.

She flushed with relief. Perhaps all would be well. He was her husband, she was his wife. She even felt married, lying here with him. Warm from her scalp to her toes—pleasant, illicit, yet sanctioned by God and Church. This was her wedding night, a most glorious night—

Before she could kiss him back, before she could hold him as her body told her to do, he pulled away. Unbidden, her arm rose to reach for him. Quickly, she drew it back and folded her hands on her lap. Must she maintain her princess’s decorum, even here?

Arthur coughed. He bent double with coughing, putting his fist to his mouth. His thin body shook.

She left the bed and retrieved a goblet of wine from the table. Returning, she sat beside him and touched his hand, urging him to take a drink. His skin was cold, damp as the English winter she’d found herself in.

“Por Dios,” she whispered. What had God brought her to? She said in Latin, “I’ll send for a physician.”

Arthur shook his head. “It is nothing. It will pass. It always does.” He took a drink of wine, swallowing loudly, as if his throat were closing.

But he had been this pale and sickly every time she’d seen him. This would not pass.

If they could have a child, if he would live long enough for them to have a child, a son, a new heir, her place in this country would be assured.

The wine would revive him. She touched his cheek. When he looked up, she hoped to see some fire in his eyes, some desire there to match her own. She hoped he would touch her back. But she only saw exhaustion from the day’s activities. He was a child on the verge of sleep.

She was a princess of Spain, not made for seduction.

He gave the goblet back to her. With a sigh, he settled back against the pillows. By his next breath, he was asleep.

Catherine set the goblet on the table. The room was chilled. Every room in this country was chilled. Yet at this moment, while her skin burned, the cool tiles of the floor felt good against her bare feet.

She knelt by the bed, clasped her hands tightly together, and prayed.

***

December 15, 1501, Richmond

Another feast lay spread before her. King Henry displayed his wealth in calculated presentations of food, music, entertainment. However much the politics and finances of his realm were strained, he would give no other appearance than that of a successful, stable monarch.

Catherine did not dance, though the musicians played a pavane. She sat at the table, beside her husband, watching. Husband in name only. He had not once come to her chamber. He had not once summoned her to his. But appearances must be maintained.

He slouched in his chair, leaning on one carved wooden arm, clutching a goblet in both hands. He had grown even more wan, even more sickly, if possible. Did no one else see it?

She touched the arm of his chair. “My husband, have you eaten enough? Should I call for more food?”

He shook his head and waved her off. It was not natural, to treat one’s wife so. He was in danger of failing his duty as a prince, and as a Christian husband.

But what could she do? A princess was meant to serve her husband, not command or judge him.

“Your husband will take mistresses,” her mother told her, in her final instructions before Catherine set sail. She told her that it was the way of things and she could not fight it. But Isabella also said that her husband would do his duty toward her, so that she might do her duty and bear him many children.

Her duty was turning to dust in her hands, through no fault of her own.

In the tiled space in the center of the hall, the young Prince Henry danced with the strange foreign woman. Catherine had no evidence that this woman was her husband’s mistress, except for the way Arthur watched her, desperately, with too bright eyes.

The woman danced gracefully. She must have been a dozen years older than her partner, but she tolerated him with an air of amusement, wearing the thin and placid smile, as though sitting for a portrait. Henry was a lively enough partner that he made every step a joy. His father was training him for the clergy, it was said. He might be the greatest bishop in England someday—the crown’s voice in the Church.

Catherine begged leave to retire early, before the music and dancing had finished. She claimed fatigue and a sensitive stomach. People nodded knowingly at the information and offered each other winks. They thought she was with child, as any young bride ought to be.

But she wasn’t. Never would be, if things kept on in this manner.

It was difficult to spy in the king’s house unless one had command of the guards and could order them to stay, or leave, or watch. She did not have command of anything except her own household, which the English court treated as the foreigners they were. Really, though, her duenna and stewards commanded her household—Catherine was too young for it, they said. Her parents had sent able guardians to look after her.

Nevertheless, against all her instincts, after dark—well after the candles and lanterns had been snuffed—Catherine donned a black traveling cloak over her shift and set out, stepping quietly past her ladies-in-waiting who slept in the outer chamber. Very quietly she opened the heavy door, giving herself barely enough space to slip through. The iron hinges squeaked, but only once, softly, like a woman sighing in her sleep.

Two more chambers, sitting rooms, lay between her and Arthur. The spaces were dark, chill. Thick windows let in very little of the already faint moonlight. Her slippered feet made no sound on the wood floors. She kept to the paneled walls and felt her way around, step by careful step.

Guards walked their rounds. They passed from room to room, pikes resting on their shoulders. England had finished its wars of succession relatively recently; for the royal family, there was always danger.

If she were very quiet, and moved very carefully, they would not see her. She hoped. If they found her, most likely nothing would happen to her, but she didn’t want to have to explain herself. This was very improper for a woman of her rank. She should go back to her own room and pray to God to make this right.

Her knees were worn out with praying.

She listened for booted footsteps and the rattle of armor. Heard nothing.

She reached the chamber outside Arthur’s bedroom. A light shone under the door, faint, buttery—candlelight. A step away from the door she paused, listening. What did she think she might hear? Conversation? Laughter? Deep sighs? She had no idea.

She touched the door. Surely it would be locked. It would be a relief to have to walk away, still ignorant. She touched the latch—

It wasn’t locked.

Softly, she pushed open the door and looked in.

Looking like an ill child far younger than his years, Arthur lay propped up in bed, limp, his eyes half-closed, senseless. Beside him crouched the foreign woman, fully clothed, her hands on his shoulders, clutching his linen nightclothes. Her mouth was open, and her teeth shone dark with blood. A gash on Arthur’s neck bled.

“You’re killing him!” Catherine cried. She stood, too shocked to scream—she ought to scream, to call for the guards. Even if they could not understand her Spanish, they would come at the sound of panic.

In a moment, a scant heartbeat, the foreign woman appeared before Catherine. She might as well have flown; the princess didn’t see her move. This was some dream, some vision. Some devil had crept into her mind.

The woman pressed her to the wall, closing Catherine’s mouth with one hand. Catherine kicked and writhed, trying to break away, but the woman was strong. Fantastically strong. Catherine swatted at her, pulled at a strand of her dark hair that had come loose from her hood. She might as well have been a fly in the woman’s grasp. With her free hand she grabbed Catherine’s wrists and held her arms still.

Then she caught Catherine’s gaze.

Her eyes were blue, the dark, clear blue of the twilight sky over Spain.

“I am not killing him. Be silent, say nothing of what you have seen, and you will keep your husband.” Her voice was subdued, but clear. Later, Catherine could not recall what language she had spoken.

Catherine nearly laughed. What husband? She might as well have chosen the convent. But she couldn’t speak, couldn’t move.

The woman’s touch was cold. The fingers curled over Catherine’s face felt like marble.

“You are so young to be in this position. Poor girl.”

The woman smiled, kindly it seemed. For a moment, Catherine wanted to cling to her, to spill all her worries before this woman—she seemed to understand.

Then she said, “Sleep. You’ve had a dream. Go back to sleep.”

Catherine’s vision faded. She struggled again, tried to keep the woman’s face in sight, but she felt herself falling. Then, nothing.

***

She awoke on the floor. She had fainted and lay curled at the foot of her own bed, wrapped in her cloak. Pale morning light shone through the window. It was a cold light, full of winter.

She tried to recall last night—she had left her bed, obviously. But for what reason? If she’d wanted wine she could have called for one of her ladies.

Her ladies would be mortified to find her like this. They would think her ill, keep her to bed, and send for physicians. Catherine quickly stood, collected herself, arranged her shift and untangled her hair. She was a princess. She ought to behave like one, despite her strange dreams of women with rich blue eyes.

An ache in her belly made her pause. It was not like her to be so indecorous as to leave her bed before morning. As she smoothed the wrinkles from her dressing gown, her fingers tickled. She raised her hand, looked at it.

A few silken black fibers—long, shining, so thin they were almost invisible—clung to her skin. Hair—but how had it come here? Her own hair was like honey, Arthur’s was colored amber—

She had seen a dark-haired woman with Arthur. It was not a dream. The memory of what she had seen had not faded after all.

***

That day, Catherine and Arthur attended Mass together. She studied him so intently that he raised his brow at her, inquiring. She couldn’t explain. He wore a high-necked doublet. She couldn’t see his neck to tell if he had a wound there. Perhaps he did, perhaps not. He made no mention of what had happened last night, made no recognition that he had even seen her. Could he not remember?

Say nothing of what you have seen, and you will keep your husband. Catherine dared not speak at all. She would be called mad.

This country was cursed, overrun with rain and plague. This king was cursed, haunted by all those who had died so he might have his crown, and so was his heir. Catherine could tell her parents, but what would that accomplish? She was not here for herself, but for the alliance between their kingdoms.

She prayed, while the priest chanted. His words were Latin, which was familiar and comforting. The Church was constant. In that she could take comfort. Perhaps if she confessed, told her priest what she had seen, he would have counsel. Perhaps he could say what demon this was that was taking Arthur.

A slip of paper, very small, as if it had been torn from the margin of a letter, fell out of her prayer book. She glanced quickly around—no one had seen it. Her ladies either stared ahead at the altar or bowed over their clasped hands. She was kneeling; the paper had landed on the velvet folds of her skirt. She picked it up.

Convene me horto. Henricus,” written in a boy’s careful hand. Meet me in the garden.

Catherine crumpled the paper and tucked it in her sleeve. She’d burn it later.

***

She told her ladies she wished to walk in the air, to stretch her legs after the long Mass. They accompanied her—she could not go anywhere without them, but she was able to find a place where she might sit a little ways off. Henry would have to find her then.

Here she was, in this country only two months and already playing at spying.

Gravel paths wound around the lawn outside Richmond, the King’s favorite palace. Never had Catherine seen grass of such jewel-like green. Even in winter, the lawn stayed green. The dampness made it thrive. Her mother-in-law Elizabeth assured her that in the summer, flowers grew in glorious tangles. Around back, boxes outside the kitchens held forests of herbs. England was fertile, the queen said knowingly.

Catherine and her ladies walked to where the path turned around a hedge. Some stone benches offered a place to rest.

“Doña Elvira, you and the ladies sit here. I wish to walk on a little. Do not worry, I will call if I need you.” The concerned expression on her duenna’s face was not appeased, but Catherine was resolute.

Doña Elvira sat and directed the others to do likewise.

Catherine strolled on, carefully, slowly, not rushing. Around the shrubs and out of sight from her ladies, Henry arrived, stepping out from behind the other end of the hedge.

Buenos días, hermana.

She smiled in spite of herself. “You learn my language.”

Henry blushed and looked at his feet. “Only a little. Hello and thank you and the like.”

“Still, gracias. For the little.”

“I have learned something of the foreign woman. I told the guards to watch her and listen.”

“We should tell your father. It is not for us to command the guards—”

“She is not from the Low Countries. Her name is Angeline. She is French, which means she is a spy,” he said.

Catherine wasn’t sure that one so naturally followed the other. It was too simple an explanation. The alliance between England and Spain presented far too strong an enemy for France. Of course they would send spies. But that was no spy she’d seen with Arthur.

She shook her head. “She is more than that.”

“She hopes to break the alliance between England and Spain by distracting my brother. If you have no children, the succession will pass to another.”

“To you and your children, yes? And perhaps a French queen for England, if they find one for you to marry?”

He pursed boyish lips. “I am Duke of York. Why would I want to be king?”

But there was a light in his eyes, intelligent, glittering. He would not shy away from being king, if, God forbid, events came to that.

He said, “There is more. I touched her hand when we danced. It was cold. Colder than stone. Colder than anything.”

Catherine paced, just a little circle beside her brother-in-law. She ought to tell a priest. But he knew. So she told him.

“I have been spying as well,” she said. “I went to Arthur’s chamber last night. If she is his mistress—I had to see. I had to know.”

“What did you see? Is she his mistress?”

Catherine wrung her hands. She did not have the words for this in any language. “I do not know. She was there, yes. But Arthur was senseless. It was as if she had put a spell on him.”

Eagerly, Henry said, “Then she is a witch?”

Catherine’s throat ached, but she would not cry. “I do not know. I do not know of such things. She said strange things to me; that I must not interfere if I wish to keep Arthur alive. She—she cast a spell on me, I think. I fainted, then I awoke in my chamber—”

Henry considered thoughtfully, a serious expression that looked almost amusing on the face of a boy. “So. A demon is trying to sink its claws into the throne of England through its heir. Perhaps it will possess him. Or devour him. We must kill it, of course.”

“We must tell a priest!” Catherine said, pleading. “We must tell the archbishop!”

“If we did, would they believe us? I, a boy, and you, a foreigner? They’ll say we are mad, or playing at games.”

She couldn’t argue because she’d thought the same. She said, “This woman made me sleep with a glance. How would we kill such a thing?” Even if they wanted to kill her. What if the woman was right, and if they acted against her she would find some way to kill Arthur? Perhaps they should bide their time.

“Highness? Are you there?” Doña Elvira called to her.

“I must away,” Catherine said, and curtsied to her brother-in-law. “We must think on what to do. We must not be rash.”

He returned the respect with a bow. “Surely. Farewell.”

She hoped he would not be rash. She feared he looked upon all this as a game.

***

“His Highness is not seeing visitors,” the gentleman of Arthur’s chamber told her. He spoke apologetically and bowed respectfully, but he would not let her through the doors to see Arthur. She wanted to scream.

“You will tell him that I was here?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the man said and bowed again.

Catherine could do nothing more than turn around and walk away, trailed by her own attending ladies.

What they must think of her. She caught the whispers among them, when they thought she couldn’t hear. Pobre Catalina. Poor Catherine, whose husband would not see her, who spent every night alone.

That evening, she sent Doña Elvira and her ladies on an errand for wine. Once again, she crept from her chambers alone, furtive as a mouse.

I will see my husband, Catherine thought. It is my right. It should not have been so difficult for her to see him alone. But as it was the palace swarmed with courtiers.

She wanted to reach him before the woman arrived to work her spells on him.

Quietly, she slipped through Arthur’s door and closed it behind her.

The bed curtains were open. Arthur, in his nightclothes, sat on the edge of the bed, hunched over. She could hear his wheezing breaths across the room.

“Your Highness,” she said, curtsying.

“Catherine?” He looked up—and did he smile? Just a little? “Why are you here?”

She said, “Who is the woman who comes to you at night?”

“No one comes to me at night.” He said this flatly, as if she were to blame for his loneliness.

She shook her head, fighting tears. She would keep her wits and not cry. “Three nights ago I came, and she was here. You were bleeding, Arthur. She hurt you. She’s killing you!”

“That isn’t true. No one has been here. And—what business is it of yours if a woman has been here?”

“I am your wife. You have a duty to me.”

“Catherine, I am so tired.”

She knelt at his side and dared to put her hand on his knee. “Then you must grow strong. So that we may have children. Your heirs.”

He touched her hand. A thrill went through her flesh, like fire. So much feeling in a simple touch! But his skin was ice cold.

“I am telling the truth,” said the boy who was her husband. “I remember nothing of any woman coming here. I come to bed every night and fall into such a deep sleep that nothing rouses me but my own coughing. I do not know of what you speak.”

This woman had put a spell on them all.

“Your father is sending your household to Ludlow Castle, in Wales,” she said.

He set his lips in a thin, pale line. “Then we shall go to Ludlow.”

“You cannot travel so far,” she said. “The journey will kill you.”

“If I were really so weak my father would not send me.”

“His pride blinds him!”

“You should not speak so of the king, my lady.” He gave a tired sigh. What would have been an accusation of treason from fiery young Henry’s lips was weary observation from Arthur’s. “Now please, Catherine. Let me sleep. If I sleep well tonight, perhaps I’ll be strong enough to see you tomorrow.”

It was an empty promise and they both knew it. He was as pale and wasted as he had ever been. She kissed his hand with as much passion as she had ever been allowed to show. She pressed her cheek to it, let tears fall on it. She would pray every day for him. Every hour.

She stood, curtsied, and left him alone in the chamber.

Outside, however, she waited, sitting on a chair in the corner normally reserved for pages or stewards. Doña Elvira would be scandalized to see her there.

In an hour, the woman Angeline came. She moved like smoke. Catherine had been staring ahead so intently she thought her eyes played a trick on her. A shadow flickered where there was no flame. A draft blew where no window was open.

Angeline did not approach, but all the same she appeared. She stood before the doors of Arthur’s bedchamber as regal as any queen.

Catherine was still gathering the courage to stand when Angeline looked at her. Her face was alabaster, a statue draped with a gown of black velvet. She might as well have been stone, her gaze was so hard.

Finally, Catherine stood.

“Es la novia niña,” Angeline said.

The princess would not be cowed by a commoner. “By the laws of Church and country I am not a child, I am a woman.”

“By one very important consideration, you are not.” She turned a pointed smile.

Catherine blushed; her gaze fell. She was still a maid. That was certainly not her fault.

“I demand that you leave here,” Catherine said. “Leave here, and leave my husband alone.”

“Oh, child, you don’t want me to do that.”

“I insist. You are some witch, some demon. That much I know. You have worked a spell on him that sickens him to death—”

“Oh no, I’ll not let my puppet die. I could keep your Arthur alive forever, if I wished. I hold that secret.”

“You . . . you are an abomination against the Church. Against God!”

She smiled thinly. “Perhaps.”

“Why?” Catherine said. “Why him? Why this?”

“He’ll be a weak king. At best, an indifferent king. He won’t be leading any troops to war against France. He will keep England a quiet, unimportant country.”

“You do not know that. You cannot see the future. He will be a great king—”

“One need not see the future to guess such things, dear Catherine.”

“You will address me as Your Highness, as is proper.”

“Of course, Your Highness. You must trust me—I will not kill Arthur. If his brother were to become king—you have seen the kind of boy he is: fierce, competitive, strong. You can imagine the kind of king he will be. No one in Europe wishes for a strong king of England.”

“My father King Ferdinand—”

“Not even King Ferdinand. From the first, he wanted a son-in-law he could control.”

Catherine knew it was true, all of it, the chess-like machinations of politics that had ruled her life. Her marriage to Arthur had given Spain another playing piece, that was all.

There was no room for love in any of this.

She was descended from two royal houses. Her ancestors were the oldest and most noble in all of Europe. Dignity was bred into the sinews of her flesh. She stood tall, did not collapse, did not cry, however much the little girl inside of her was trembling.

“And what of children?” she said. “What of the children I’m meant to bear?”

“It may be possible. Or it may not.”

“I do not believe you. I do not believe anything that you say.”

“Yes, you do,” she said. “But more importantly, you cannot stop me. You’ll go to sleep, now. You will not remember.”

She wanted to fling herself at the woman, strangle her with her own hands. Tiny hands that couldn’t strangle a kitten, alas.

“Catherine. Move away. I know what she is.” The command came in the incongruous voice of a boy.

Prince Henry stood blocking the chamber’s other doorway. He had a spear, which seemed overlarge and unwieldy in his hands. Nevertheless, he held it at the ready, feet braced, pointed at the woman. It was a mockery of battle. A child playing at hunting boar.

“What am I, boy?” the woman said in a soft, mocking voice.

This only drove Henry to greater rage. “Succubus. A demon who feeds on the souls of men. You will not have my brother, devil!”

Her smile fell, darkening her expression. “You have just enough intelligence to do harm. And more than enough ignorance.”

“I’ll kill you. I can kill you where you stand.”

“You will not kill me. Arthur is so much mine that without me he will die.”

She’d made Arthur weak and subsumed him under her power. If that tie between them was severed—

Catherine’s heart pounded. She could not stop them both. They would not listen. No one ever listened to her. “Henry, you must not, she is keeping Arthur alive.”

“She lies.”

The woman laughed, a bitter sound. “If Arthur dies, Henry becomes heir. That reason will not stay his hand.”

But Henry didn’t want to be king. He’d said so . . .

Catherine caught his gaze. She saw something dark in his eyes.

Then she tried to forget that she’d seen it. “My lord, wait—”

The woman lived in shadow—was made of shadow. She started to flow back into the hidden ways by which she came, moving within the stillness of night. Catherine saw nothing but a shudder, the light of a sputtering candle. But Henry saw more, and like a great hunter he anticipated what the flinch of movement meant.

With a shout he lunged forward, driving the spear before him.

The woman flew. Catherine would swear that she flew, up and over, toward the ceiling to avoid Henry. Henry followed with his spear, jumping, swinging the weapon upward. He missed. With a sigh, the woman twisted away from him. Henry stumbled, thrown off balance by his wayward thrust, and Angeline stood behind him.

“You’re a boy playing at being warrior,” she said, carrying herself as calmly as if she had not moved.

Henry snarled an angry cry and tried again. The woman stepped aside and took hold of the back of Henry’s neck. With no effort at all, she pushed him down, so that he was kneeling. He still held the spear, but she was behind him, pressing down on him, and he couldn’t use it.

“I could make you as much my puppet as your brother is.”

“No! You won’t! I’ll never be anyone’s puppet!” He struggled, his whole body straining against her grip, but he couldn’t move.

Catherine knelt and began to pray, Pater Noster and Ave Maria, and her lips stumbled trying to get out all the words at once.

The prayers were for her own comfort. Catherine had little faith in her own power; she didn’t expect the unholy creature to hear her words and pause. She didn’t consider that her own words, her own prayer, would cause Angeline to loosen her grip on Henry.

But Angeline did loosen her grip. Her body seemed to freeze for a moment. She became more solid, as if the prayer had made her substantial.

Henry didn’t hesitate. He threw himself forward, away from Angeline, then spun to put the spear between them. Then, while she was still seemingly entranced, he drove it home.

The point slipped into her breast. She cried out, fell, and as she did Henry drove the wooden shaft deep into her chest.

The next moment she lay on the floor, clutching the shaft of the spear. Henry still held the end of it. He stared down at her, iconic, like England’s beloved Saint George and his vanquished dragon.

There was no blood.

A strangeness happened—as strange as anything else Catherine had seen since coming to England. With the scent of a crypt rising from her, the woman faded in color, then dried and crumbled like a corpse that had been rotting for a dozen years. The body became unrecognizable in a moment. In another, only ash and dust remained.

Henry kicked a little at the mound of debris.

Catherine spoke, her voice shaking. “She said she was keeping Arthur alive. What if it’s true? What if he dies? I’ll be a widow in a strange country. I’ll be lost.” Lost, when she was meant to be a queen. Her life was slipping away.

Henry touched her arm. She nearly screamed, but her innate dignity controlled her. She only flinched.

He gazed at her with utmost gravity. “I’ll take care of you. If Arthur dies, then I’ll take care of you, when I am king after my father.”

***

Arthur died in the spring. And so it came to pass that Henry, who had been born to be Duke of York and nothing else, a younger brother, a mere afterthought in the chronicles of history, would succeed his father as King of England, become Henry VIII, and marry Catherine of Aragon. He would take care of her, as he had promised.

He was sixteen at their wedding, a year older than Arthur had been. But so different. Like day and night, summer and winter. Henry was tall, flushed, hearty, laughed all the time, danced, hunted, jousted, argued, commanded. Their wedding night would be nothing like Catherine’s first, she knew. He is the greatest prince in all Europe, people at court said of him. He will make England a nation to be reckoned with.

Catherine considered her new husband—now taller than she by a head. Part of her would always remember the boy. She could still picture him the way he stood outside Arthur’s chamber, spear in his hands, fury in his eyes, ready to do battle. Ready to sacrifice his own brother. Catherine would never forget that this was a man willing to do what he believed must be done, whatever the cost.

She wanted to be happy, but England’s chill air remained locked in her bones.

© 2007 by Carrie Vaughn, LLC.
Originally published in The Secret History of Vampires,
edited by Darrell Schweitzer.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn is the bestselling author of the Kitty Norville series, the most recent of which is the twelfth installment, Kitty in the Underworld. Her superhero novel Dreams of the Golden Age was released in January 2014.  She has also written young adult novels, Voices of Dragons and Steel, and the fantasy novels, Discord’s Apple and After the Golden Age. Her short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, from Lightspeed to Tor.com and George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. She lives in Colorado with a fluffy attack dog. Learn more at carrievaughn.com.

2 Responses »

  1. Marvelous story, beautifully written and beautifully read!

  2. Hi Carrie,

    Love your stories and I’m hooked! Especially Harry and Marlowe. Would love to read more about them.

    With love from Malaysia.

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